UAE Judo Head Apologizes After Israeli's Opponent Snubs Handshake at Abu Dhabi Tournament

International Judo Federation president called the apology a 'gesture of courage,' and said he thought the Israeli team had been treated 'very well'

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Israeli Judo medal winners Gili Cohen (bronze) and Tal Flicker (gold) in Abu Dhabi, Oct 26, 2017
Israeli Judo medal winners Gili Cohen (bronze) and Tal Flicker (gold) in Abu Dhabi, Oct 26, 2017Credit: HANDOUT/AFP
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The head of the Judo Federation in the United Arab Emirates apologized after one of the country’s athletes refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent.

Five Israelis won medals in the Grand Slam tournament in Abu Dhabi but were not able to celebrate with their country’s flag or national anthem during the award ceremonies.

Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darei, president of the UAE’s Judo Federation, and Aref Al-Awani, a senior UAE sports official, apologized to Israeli Judo Association head Moshe Ponte on Saturday after UAE athlete Rashad Almashjari refused to shake the hand of the winner, Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul, in the first round of the men’s lightweight category. Butbul won a bronze medal in the competition.

International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer called the apology a “gesture of courage,” and said he thought the Israeli team had been treated “very well” and with “high respect” during the tournament, Times of Israel reported. Israel does not have diplomatic relations with the UAE.

Three more Israeli athletes won bronze medals on Saturday, bringing the total medal count at the event to five.

In addition to Butbul’s bronze medal, Or Sasson won the bronze medal in the over 100 kilogram category and Peter Paltchik also won a bronze Saturday in the men’s under 100 kilograms category. Sasson had won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. During that competition an Egyptian judoka refused to shake his hand at the end of a match.

The athletes all competed in the uniform of the International Judo Federation and received their medals medal under an IJF flag while the anthem of the federation was played.

“As you can see I don’t have the flag,” Or Sasson told reporters Saturday after taking third place, referring to his uniform. “But my heart is always, always with the State of Israel. I hope I made you proud and I will always continue to represent you with pride.”

When Tal Flicker stood on the podium to receive his gold medal in the men’s under-145 pound category on Thursday, he sang the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah” as the international federation’s anthem was played. The same day, Gili Cohen won a bronze medal in the women’s under-114 pounds category.

Earlier this month, Israeli team members were informed that they would not be permitted to compete under any Israeli symbols, claiming it was for security reasons. Two years ago, eight Israelis competed under similar conditions during the same event in Abu Dhabi.

On Wednesday, the International Judo Federation ordered the UAE to treat Israeli athletes equally during the tournament.

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